Murray's Mailbag: Will Nevada basketball win a game this season?

Jordan Caroline
Jordan Caroline and the Wolf Pack got off to a rough start to the season in a loss to Washington. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

In last week's Monday Mailbag, I was ask to predict what "the big takeaway" from Nevada basketball's exhibition game game against Washington on Sunday would be. I wrote, in part, "The big takeaway will either be 'Nevada is great!' (if the Wolf Pack wins) or 'Nevada is overrated!' (if the Wolf Pack loses). There's always a knee-jerk reaction after the first game." Well, the Wolf Pack got the second of those two reactions after dropping a 91-73 decision to Washington on Sunday. Most of your questions this week are about that performance, so let's get at it. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome).

Mostly an early-season sign of things to work out. I actually texted a friend Saturday saying Nevada would lose the game. It was set up to happen that way. Washington is a super talented team that returned all five starters and were almost certainly going to be the hungrier team being on the road at a top-10 opponent. They had more to prove and have had more cohesion over the years.

So, it wasn't really the fact Nevada lost that was surprising. It was how they lost. All of the potential weaknesses on paper showed up. Nevada didn't defend. It didn't shoot the ball well. The role players did not seem comfortable in those spots given they're used to starting and having the ball in their hands. If those things continue, Nevada won't live up to the hype. But it's the first game of 40 Nevada will play this season. I wouldn't be overly worried.

The Wolf Pack is still the heavy favorite to win the Mountain West, and you can guarantee the team will get better as the season progresses given how good of a coach Eric Musselman is. Are they a little overrated right now? Yeah, they didn't look like the No. 7 team in the nation, as voted in the AP poll, during Sunday's game. But Washington also is the best team Nevada will play all regular season. I still expect this team to go somewhere around 26-5 in the regular season, to win the Mountain West and to be comfortably in the NCAA Tournament.

That is how Musselman is after Nevada loses. He called the team the seventh best in the conference (at best) after a preseason win last year. He said Nevada would be fortunate to get a first-round bye in the MW Tournament after last year's home loss to UNLV. He does not like to lose. He does not react well to losing. There is obviously a method behind the madness. Smart coaches use their pressers and the media to send messages to their players. Here's some evidence.

“I just won’t sleep very good for now until BYU," Musselman said after the Washington loss. "But other than me, I’m sure these guys think everything’s all right. But it’s not. We’re horrible defensively. It’s atrocious. We’re probably one of the worst defensive teams in all of college basketball.”

That's sending a message. Remember, it was only last week he told fans at the Silver & Blue Scrimmage his team had enough talent to win the national championship. The players are the same one week later. I would not panic yet.

I do indeed have Nevada in my NCAA Tournament mock bracket.

I don't think we have to mince words on this one. Direct from the mouth of Caleb Martin: "We’ve got guys who don’t practice hard. There are guys who have bad practice habits and they act like it doesn’t translate to the game. As a team, we don’t practice hard enough. Coach gets on us and we have some guys who go at their own pace. Many guys think we can just turn it on and turn it off whenever we want because we’ve got size and we’ve got length and we’ve got depth. Like Coach said, we don’t really have any of those things if they guys don’t produce. If anything, we just have less perimeter shooters who don’t make shots because we don’t have Kendall (Stephens) saving us and Hallice (Cooke) coming out there jumping on loose balls. We didn’t have that tonight.” You don't have to read between the lines to see some of Nevada's key personnel have an issue with the effort.

Overall impression: Nevada played a really bad, no good, horrible second half and got blasted off the court by a talented team.

Biggest disappointment: The defense. Shooting comes and goes. But, Nevada looked uninterested in playing defense last night.

I know I shouldn't laugh at press conferences when Nevada gets blasted, but when Musselman threw out this line about his dog, I couldn't help myself: "They stunk. They didn’t play hard enough. And they can’t guard. I just have to go home and talk to my dog and ask Swish how he thinks we should play defense and maybe we’ll play a zone. We can’t play man-to-man. It’s a joke.” I could actually see Musselman sleeping on the couch with his dog asking him what kind of defense he should play. I assume Swish's recommendation would be, "Go get me a dog bone."

No. It's going to take more than one exhibition game for Nevada to completely junk its plan heading into the season. If Nevada is struggling in man-to-man for a month, then maybe you change course. But Musselman has never really coached a zone, so why switch to it now. Musselman did not seem optimistic about his team's defensive ability -- “I think they’re actually trying, but they’re just bad lateral foot speed guys,” he said -- but they should stick with the man-to-man until you absolutely must change. It's not like Nevada lost a bunch of great defenders in the offseason with the departures of Kendall Stephens, Hallice Cooke and Josh Hall. Those were Nevada's three worst defenders (based on defensive rating) in the Wolf Pack rotation last season. The defense should be better this year despite that horrid effort against Washington.

I asked Musselman that exact question and his response was: “The bench lacked effort tonight. I think the other guys tried. With our big lineup, can we do it? I don’t know. I thought we needed some perimeter shooting.” So, he wanted one more shooter out there against Washington's zone. Porter had seven points and two rebounds in 11 minutes. I expect him to play a lot more moving forward. He should be getting 25 minutes a night. But can Nevada space offensively and defend well with two bigs? That's the big question. The Wolf Pack could use Porter's shot blocking, though.

I don't know when the USA Today Coaches Poll ballots were due, but the AP voting was last Wednesday and Nevada opens the season seventh in that poll, so the loss had no impact. If the voting took place after that game, the Wolf Pack would probably be 14 or 15. Timing is everything. By the time we vote again in three weeks, most everybody will have forgotten about that Washington game.

I do not see it cracking 50 (also, I have no idea how you assign a preseason defensive rank to a team with so many new pieces). Bottom line is it almost always takes a top-50 defense to make the Final Four. Of the last 40 teams to make the Final Four (the last 10 NCAA tournaments), only one didn't rank in KenPom's top 50 in defense. One out of 40! That was 2011 VCU. The Wolf Pack better make giant gains there.

For me, the Nevada offense is the key to the rest of the season. The defense is good. I trust the defense. It will limit the opponent every time out. It's weird to say this, but the offense is the wild card, especially against a tough defensive unit like the one San Diego State brings to town Saturday. In basketball, it's the opposite. Nevada's offense will be fine in hoops. The defense is the thing I question. So, if you make me trust either the Nevada football defense or the Nevada basketball defense, I'm taking football.

Yes, I can see that. Nevada will be favored against Colorado State, San Jose State and UNLV and is only a field goal underdog to San Diego State, which has an amazing defense but a god awful offense with backups in at quarterback and running back (the starters could come back this week, but I wouldn't count on it). That being said, ESPN's advanced metrics give Nevada only a 16.7 percent chance of winning out (those are the 16th-best odds of winning out of 130 FBS teams). I'll give the Wolf Pack a 20 percent chance of doing so. At the very least, it looks like a bowl berth is a lock. I would not be shocked to see Nevada finish the regular season 8-4. That would be a great result.

Nevada finishes the regular season 7-5 overall, 5-3 in the MW and takes a win over Louisiana Monroe in the Arizona Bowl, a bowl result I predicted before the season began. Might as well stick with that.

I don't root for San Jose State to lose. The Spartans do that on their own.

A) Has the Fertittas' checks cleared yet? I mean, that's why he was hired in the first place.

B) He's actually improved the program. His predecessor won two games in four of five seasons. Sanchez has posted wins totals of three, four and five in his first three seasons.

C) Very few coaches are fired after three seasons, so he was safe at least until this year.

D) His contract runs through the 2021 season and UNLV doesn't have the money to be throwing around big buy-outs.

E) UNLV doesn't really care about football, so there isn't any major pressure to make a move.

F) I get the feeling their waiting to do anything until the facility facility and Boondoggle Stadium open in 2020 and can make a big splash hire.

G) Sanchez's prized quarterback recruit, Armani Rogers, has missed the last three games with an injury.

So, while I think he will get at least one more season, he'll need to make a bowl in 2019 or it's over. He might need more than that.

I don't know. I've been calling for that since the third game of the season, but the Wolf Pack likes to employ a four-back system. The two times Nevada rode Taua hard was when it leaned on the wildcat, games against Oregon State and Hawaii, and it certainly worked. He's had 12-plus carries in four games this season and is averaging 113.3 yards per game and 7.8 yards per carry in those contests. I would be giving him 20-25 touches per game. Nevada has not employed that strategy to date. I'm not sure about cutting Kelton Moore out of the equation for Devonte Lee, though. Moore is averaging more yards per carry and has more big-play potential. Taua should be the featured back, though. He is indeed special.

He's fallen behind Elijah Cooks (I'll have a story on him later this week) and Romeo Doubs on the depth chart. The potential is huge, but you have to produce. He did have 11 catches for 214 yards and three touchdowns against SDSU last season, so maybe this week's game against the Aztecs will spark him.

Parker has spoken. Over. Also, he's super famous in these parts, as this tweet can attest to. I would like to point out, however, that I am the "Hero of Sparks™" as my Twitter location indicates. Thanks to one-time Reno Mayoral candidate Azzi Shirazi for coming up with the hero of a local city concept.

Why do you have spare fitted sheets? I have one fitted sheet per mattress and no more than that. I don't need extra fitted sheets on hand in case of emergency. If there is an emergency (kids like to throw up on their beds), I go to the store and get another fitted sheet. As such, I have never had to fold a fitted sheet.

I assume this is College GameDay coming to Nevada for a Wolf Pack basketball game (it's never happening in football). I could see ESPN coming to town for a basketball game if Nevada can become a perennial top-15 team like Gonzaga, but it will take a couple of years and a marquee opponent coming to Reno. Even with Eric Musselman's connections, that seems unlikely. Odds at 2 percent that happens in the next five years.

Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and the winner of the Big Ten (Michigan or Ohio State). I could see the winner of the Big 12 sneaking in, but it will be hard to kick out Notre Dame over the Big Ten champ even if the Irish lose a game since it already has that win over Michigan. It doesn't really matter anyway since Alabama is going to romp through that thing.

Yes. He's awesome.

Hell no. San Diego State or Boise State have won five of the six MW football titles since 2011 and the Aztecs have had the best basketball program in the conference (and Boise State the third best) since 2011. SDSU has won the most MW titles in all sports since 2011, too. The MW would be a lot worse without those two athletic departments. It'd be greatly compromised. I didn't like the concessions Boise State got in 2011 when it relented on the move to the Big East. The Broncos were going to come back anyway. They had nowhere to go. But let's not get crazy. The MW needs Boise State and SDSU.

For the first time since the MW split into two divisions in 2013, the West is better than the Mountain, although that is largely because the Mountain has gotten worse. In the Mountain, Colorado State, New Mexico and Wyoming are bad this season, Air Force is average and Boise State and Utah State are good. In the West, Fresno State and San Diego State are good, Nevada and Hawaii are average and UNLV and SJSU are bad. That's my opinion. The numbers don't back me up. If you go purely by Sagarin ratings, the average Mountain team is 80.2 in the nation and the average West team is 98.2 in the nation. So the numbers like the Mountain more. I like the West more, but it's close.

That is the only MW arena Musselman has not won at. He will put much emphasis on that game. I'll take the Aztecs.

She's not listed on Nevada's staff directory, so I'm going with "No."

Never underestimate how many fouls a big man with slow feet can pick up when trying to stay in front of Jordan Caroline.

I have a very rudimentary knowledge of this stuff, but we basically bought the rights from Spectrum to put the game on TV for y'all. We should be able to do that with one or two Wolf Pack basketball games this season. But, we're basically getting stuff that slips through the cracks. ESPN and CBS Sports Network have dibs for MW games, per their contract with the conference. But, yes, we're committed to getting anything of interest on TV for fans if there are games that you wouldn't be able to see otherwise (see Reno 1868 FC's playoff games, too).

The MW sets the byes. Nevada's does come late. It doesn't seem to have affected the team at all, although they did not practice today to get some extra rest.

I'll just look at preseason Top 25 teams. My team to surprise is Washington, and that was before Sunday's game. My team to tank is UCLA, and then Steve Alford is gone after the season.

PG: Justin James, Wyoming

SG: Deshon Taylor, Fresno State

SF: Sam Merrill, Utah State

PF: Jalen McDaniels, SDSU

C: Shakur Juiston, UNLV

Bench: Nico Carvacho, Colorado State; Devin Watson, San Diego State; Vance Jackson, New Mexico; Matt Mitchell, SDSU; Justinian Jessup, Boise State

That team beats Nevada pretty handily.

Olive Garden baby!

But, for real, I've never been to Pensacola, so I have no idea what there is to eat there. Just tip well since you won't be paying for it anyway.

It's my second-favorite Pearl Jam album behind Yield. I'll rank them, from most favorite to "least most favorite" (I won't say bad because all of the songs on that album are great). Fun fact: Vs. sold a record 950,000 copies in its first five days on the shelves, a record that held until Limp Bizkit's 2000 release "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water." Seriously, what the hell, America? The list:

1. Rearviewmirror

2. Indifference

3. Go

4. W.M.A. (listen to the lyrics in this song and compare to Colin Kaepernick's cause; amazing those lyrics were written 25 years ago)

5. Animal

6. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town

7. Daughter

8. Rats

9. Blood

10. Glorified G

11. Dissident

12. Leash

A reader? So, like somebody reads the story out loud for you? I don't know how that works. We do have three different sized fonts to choose from if your sight isn't great. And I'll take shredded.

I so wish the answer to this question is Clayton Kershaw. But it will probably be Mookie Betts after the Red Sox win the series, 4-1. I've been conditioned to believe that's what will happen. It would at least be better than taking it to Game 7 but not showing up for that game like the Dodgers did last season.

My World Series prediction is pain. For me. For the Dodgers. And then they'll win the NL West again next season before more playoff pain. This is just how it works.

I've made it pretty clear I'm expecting the worst.

I'm clearly handling this situation quite well.

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